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St Michaels Churchyard

St Michaels Churchyard

St Michael's Churchyard lies in between Church Street and Brampton Road, just opposite Stanwix Primary School.

16 May 2016/Categories: Trails and Nature

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St Michael's Churchyard lies in between Church Street and Brampton Road, just opposite Stanwix Primary School.


There are bird nesting boxes, resting places for quiet contemplation, outdoor learning spaces, herb rich grasslands and formal raised flower beds.

Park opening times

St Michael's Churchyard is open all day, every day.

History of St Michael's

According to Bulmer's History and Directory of Cumberland 1901, St Michael's Church was in existence as early as the reign of Henry I (1100 - 1135). 

In A History of Cumberland 1794, Hutchinson reports; 'The church is gloomy, being only part of the original structure, as appears by the arches of he north aisle, built up in the outward wall. This fabric has been built of the materials of the Roman Vallum, and stands upon the station.'

It is not uncommon to find older stone being incorporated into later buildings, and it certainly appears that the the old St Michael's Church may have been built using stone from Hadrian's Wall, and more interestingly the fort of Uxelodunum which once stood on the site, more of that below.

The old church was demolished in 1841 and a new church built for an astonishing £3,030. 

The new St Michael's was partially burned by the overheating of ' stoves or flues' in 1843 destroying pews, the organ and windows. In 1885 the graveyard was closed to interments, and in 1894 St Michael's was restored and the vestry enlarged for £1,900. 

A Turbulent Past

The Iron Age and Roman period is probably the most fascinating in the history of the site of St Michael's Church.

In the north of England there was the Brigantes and here in Cumbria the Carvetii.  The Brigantes became a powerful Celtic tribe with many alliances. Cartimandua was a Brigantian noble, her consort (husband) was Venutius of the Carvetii. 

After a period of quiet acceptance of the Roman occupation, the Brigantes became divided, and internal rebellions ensued. Cartimandua caused unrest among her own people through her betrayal of the Celtic King Caratacus when she turned him in to the Romans.   After a very public affair with her shield bearer, Venutius divorced her and began a series of attacks on her power base. The Romans were forced to intervene, and had to rescue Cartimandua from peril in AD69. From then on Venutius ruled the Carvetii and the Brigantes,  and fermented hostility towards the Romans. 

In AD71 Petillius Cerialis, aided by Gnaeus Julius Agricola came to Britain with the Ala Petriana to deal with Venutius and the restless natives of the north.

The Ala Petriana was a 500 strong auxiliary cavalry unit, raised in Gaul (France) by Titus Pomponius Petra, probably early in the first century. The Ala Petriana were battle hardened veterans, recorded as having seen battle in Germany AD56 and again in AD69.

With Venutius defeated, Cerialis returned to Rome in AD74, leaving Agricola to continue the campaign in Britain. Around AD78-79 Agricola established a fort at Carlisle on high ground above the confluence of the Eden and the Caldew (Luguvallum). This later developed into the walled city of Carlisle.

Around this time, Agricola built the Stanegate (stone road) from Carlisle to Corbridge, with forts built a day's march apart, enabling troops to be despatched with lightning speed to deal with any Brigantian uprisings. It is from these Stanegate forts that further expansion into Scotland was undertaken by Agricola and his army, which would have doubtless included the Ala Petriana.

At some time during the reign of Emperor Trajan (AD98-117) the Ala Petriana was expanded to 1,000 cavalry men, making it the largest cavalry unit in Britain.

Following renewed unrest from the Brigantes, the Emperor Hadrian visited Britain in AD122. He devised a plan to construct a wall to separate the Brigantes from their warmongering allies in Southern Scotland.This barrier utilised the old Stanegate and its line of forts, consolidating the Roman Empire, becoming its new north west frontier, Hadrian's Wall.

The Ala Petriana's full title was ala Augusta Gallorum Petriana milliaria bis torquata civium Romanorum.

Ala means wing and refers to their deployment on the field of battle, on the flanks, where they would have been used to harry the enemy and for intelligence gathering.

Augusta means 'Emperors Own' and was an honour bestowed upon them.

Gallorum - from Gaul (France).

Petriana - after the founder Petra.

Milliaria - size of the unit (800 to 1,000).

Bis torquata - they were twice decorated for gallantry with the torq (neck band).

Civium Romanum - the Petriana were not Roman citizens, they were auxiliaries from Gaul. Auxiliaries were recruited from local peoples that had been conquered, they were sent away from their home to fight on the front line or to garrison the forts. Auxiliaries did not have the same pay nor privileges afforded Roman Legionaries, and instead had to earn Roman citizenship through gallantry and loyalty. This means the Ala Petriana were awarded Roman citizenship.

Clearly the Ala Petriana had become a crack military unit, with many battle hardened soldiers amongst its ranks.  It was the the most powerful unit on Hadrian's Wall and in Britain,  it was certainly the largest.  It must have been used with great effect to quell any uprisings in what was probably one of the most turbulent regions of the Roman Empire.  They would have been commanded by a seasoned campaigner with a great deal of military experience, who may well have been in command of the whole of Hadrian's Wall from the fort of Uxelodunum.

In Hexham Abbey is the tombstone of Flavinus, the signifer (standard bearer) of the Ala Petriana, which was found at Corbridge. For more information about the Ala Petriana, click on the link below.

The Lost Fort of Uxelodunum.

The old fort at Carlisle (Luguvallum) was eclipsed in the second century by the construction of another fort nearby on the line of Hadrian's Wall. It stood on a hill at Stanwix, north of the River Eden, with clear views over the Solway Plain to the uplands of southern Scotland. This would have given the garrison a significant military advantage in guarding the north west gateway to the Roman Empire. 

The fort of Uxelodunum derives its name from the Celtic word for water, Uxe and dunum meaning fortified place. On some ordnance survey maps it is referred to as Petriana and Pertrianum, which relates to the Ala Petriana, which was garrisoned at the fort.

St Michael's Church stands on the what was the south western corner of Uxelodunum. The word Stanwix comes from the old Norse Stane wic meaning stone farm, and may well have arisen from the re-use of the Roman fort by Norse settlers.

The first fort at Stanwix appears to have been built at the same time as Hadrian's Wall in AD122 by the VI Legion, an inscribed stone bearing their name was found at the site.  Sometime around AD160 the fort was enlarged to occupy an area of 3.96 ha (9.79 acres), making it the largest fort on Hadrian's Wall. It is thought that the fort was enlarged to accommodate the enlarged Ala Petriana which was garrisoned here at Uxelodunum from around this time until the fourth century.


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